New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir said this morning he will resign to take a job in the private sector that will involve the use of DNA testing to help solve crimes.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Safir “the greatest police commisioner in the history of the city” at a morning news conference.
Safir has accepted a job at ChoicePoint in Atlanta as the special adviser to the president of the company, which verifies pre-employment credentials for businesses.
Safir said the new job offers him the opportunity to do things with DNA and law enforecement issues he could not do while working in the public sector.
“This is a day of mixed emotuions. I am going to an exciting new career,” Safir said. “It‘s just time to do something else.”
His last day on the job will be Aug. 18.
Steep Drop in Crime Safir, 58, has presided over a dramatic drop in the crime rate, but also a department beset by racial incidents over his four years in charge.
Since his 1996 appointment, crime in the Big Apple is down roughly 30 percent. But Safir’s critics accuse him of being Giuliani’s puppet, rubber-stamping the mayor’s policies. Safir was never as popular as his predecessor, the affable William Bratton, who won over the men and women in blue, as well as the public.
His tenure was marked by several dramatic, polarizing shooting incidents. He was accused of being insensitive to minorities, and the cases — including the fatal shooting of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo — only served to increase tensions between the department and the city’s large minority community.
Tensions in Gotham
In 1997, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was brutalized in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn by Officer Justin Volpe. Volpe pleaded guilty in 1999. Five other officers have either been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty in one of the worst police brutality scandals in city history.
After the incident, Safir transferred the entire precinct, bringing in a number of Hispanic and black officers in hopes of appeasing the mostly minority community that precinct serves. But in June, a federal jury ordered the police department to pay 24 officers $50,000 each for being involuntarily transferred.
Diallo was shot 41 times by four white police officers in February, 1999, because they thought the wallet he was holding was a gun. All of the officers were acquitted in February of murder and other charges.
Shortly after the shooting, Safir took an all-expenses-paid trip to the Academy Awards, courtesy of a Revlon executive friend, leaving town amid the protests over Diallo’s death.
The Oscar trip prompted the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — the union representing more than 26,000 cops — to issue its first-ever “no-confidence” vote against a commissioner.
Safir refused to quit and reiterated a statement he has made many times during his tenure: “Crime has gone down more under my stewardship than any time in the history of this city. ...It is a safer city.” During that same time, crime dropped to a 30-year low in many other major cities across the country.
Safir — and Giuliani — were mired in controversy again when in March, an undercover detective fatally shot Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed security guard, on a Manhattan street known as a drug location. However, Dorismond did not have any drugs on him.
Both Safir and the mayor were heavily criticized for releasing Dorismond’s sealed juvenile record. A state grand jury declined to indict the detective.
Leaders of the department’s Minority Association say building morale — of both the officers and the community — will be a critical task for the incoming commissioner.
Safir suffered a personal blow in May, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When he made his diagnosis public, just weeks after Giuliani announced that he was suffering from prostate cancer, Safir said his condition was treatable, but has not disclosed his treatment plan.
Safir was appointed the city’s 39th police commissioner after a stint as fire commissioner. He had earlier spent 26 years in federal law enforcement, serving with the Drug Enforcement Administration and later as operations chief of the U.S. Marshals Service in the 1980s.
He then formed his own security consulting firm, Safir Associates, based in Fairfax, Va. In 1994, the Bronx native returned to the city to serve in Giuliani’s administration. He has known the mayor for about 20 years.
Safir graduated from Long Island’s Hofstra University in 1963 with a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science, and went on to Brooklyn Law School. He and his wife have been married for 34 years. They have two adult children, Adam and Jennifer, both of whom are married.
The commissioner is expected to leave by the end of the month. His new job could not immediately be confirmed.
ABC station WABC in New York and The Associated Press contributed to this report.